“Light Chang is visiting the US from Taiwan, proudly displaying the flag of Taiwan as he rides his loaded touring bike from coast to coast.” Photo and description credit: Mark Stosberg. Cropped. Originally shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Taiwanese who wish to take part in international organizations face an enormous hurdle called the One-China Policy, which China uses to prevent their participation.
So what is it exactly? In short, the One-China Policy means there is only one state called “China”. But there are two countries in the world bearing that name, the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC), so the international community must choose one over the other.
The government of the ROC, which is the official name for Taiwan, ruled the territories of mainland China from 1912 until 1949, when it lost the country's civil war to the communist PRC forces. Subsequently, the ROC relocated their capital to Taipei. They continued, however, to represent China in the United Nations until 1971, when the body forced them to give up their seat to the PRC (Resolution 2758).
Over the years, more and more Taiwanese prefer to have one China and one Taiwan instead of two Chinas or one united China. Nevertheless, the PRC is determined to have Taiwan in the near future, so they oppose any moves to formalize Taiwan's self-rule. Beijing even prefers that Taiwan use the name Republic of China as they can then accuse any country who supports Taiwan's independence of interfering with the internal affairs of China.
The PRC has become a non-negligible superpower through its economic and military growth in the last decades, and the country has used its international influence to further put the squeeze on Taiwan. For example, Chinese physician Margaret Chan served as the director-general of the World Health Organization from 2006 to 2017. In 2010, she reaffirmed the Memorandum of Understanding between the WHO and the PRC, a document signed in 2005, which stated that the approval of Beijing is required for any involvement by Taiwan in the organization’s activities. Furthermore, she specifically requested their members to call Taiwan a province of China.
In addition, Fang Liu, who became the secretary-general of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2015, and Meng Hongwei, who was elected as the president of the Agency Executives of the International Police Organization (INTERPOL) in 2017, are two other Chinese in high-ranking jobs in international organizations.
Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that the ROC's application to join the World Health Assembly, the ICAO, and INTERPOL in 2016/2017 were all rejected despite the support from the US and the EU. Moreover, Taiwanese journalists were expelled from the ICAO, and Taiwanese NGO representatives were told that Taiwanese are not allowed to join the World Health Assembly even with a valid observer pass.
Despite the tremendous pressure from China, Taiwanese keep finding ways to be involved in the international arena. Taiwan has participated in the Olympic Games since 1984, in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation since 1991, and in the World Trade Organization since 2002. And in 2016, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held its first official dialogue with Taiwan on trade.